Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Photos by Eliza

Guest Post by Eliza Perry, one of our 2013-14 Hubbard Fellows (all photos are by Eliza Perry).

The past month has been wild. Instead of writing up a succinct summary, I decided to share a few of my favorite photos I’ve managed to capture in the field (our work is rarely camera-friendly).


From afar, prairie is a striking landscape with dramatic skies and a vast, quaking floor; up close, however, is a far more interesting view. I had never seen a bird’s nest intentionally woven into grass before working in prairie. This particular nest held five dickcissel eggs. Usually these eggs are accompanied by one or two brown-speckled eggs from a crafty cow bird, who transfer their parental burden onto an unknowing other.



Invasive species control will always bring up concerns about inadvertent damage. I don’t know the name of this beautiful flower, but I noticed it while spot spraying sericea lespedeza at our property in Rulo. We recently purchased a new backpack sprayer that provides dense, targeted coverage over a plant, but even so, my worry is always in how many neighboring plants unintentionally receive a harmful or fatal dose of herbicide. We could see patches of dead vegetation from last year’s sericea treatment.

During my first few days of spot spraying this season, soaking invasives seemed like a bulletproof plan in light of the natural tendency toward “more is better.” Since then, I’ve learned that this method is not only harmful to the surrounding plant community, but more importantly, it is often counter-productive because it can “burn” the plant past its ability to absorb the chemical. The result is a damaged plant with an intact root system and ability to regrow and flower. This is an ongoing challenge, but I have learned to mitigate some of my impact through application technique. For example, one key is maintaining high pressure in the backpack sprayer pump to avoid drippage between sprays.



This photo was taken several weeks ago when most of our sensitive briar (Mimosa quadrivalvus) was at an early stage in blooming. The young flowers caught my attention immediately because to me they look like fireworks. I invent names for most of the forbs I don’t recognize until I can get a handle on their proper common names, and I called these “firework flowers” until relatively recently when I finally accepted them as sensitive briar.



This photo does not adequately capture the plant or structural diversity present in this area. I took it very early on before I understood the significance of either, but as I reviewed the photos I had snapped in the past two months, this one stood out in a different way than it was originally intended to: as an almost comical juxtaposition of cropland and prairie. Of course, agricultural monocultures serve their purpose, but the measures of success and functionality for the two “ecosystems” are so contrary that it makes for an interesting picture to see the two side-by-side. For one, the presence of a “weed” is considered to be the enemy of crop productivity, while prairies are essentially a collection of tenacious (native) weeds. Moreover, monocultures entail the least amount of variety in land management practices by design, while prairies thrive on highly variable land management and substantial disturbance.



Prairie management involves a lot of equipment and we need to know how to maintain it. Our trailers are particularly important because they allow us to transport heavier equipment like ATVs and skidloaders to properties further away. A few weeks ago, one of our trailers had a small part knocked off. This photo shows Nelson, our land manager, teaching me how to weld it back on. Anne and I are in the process of learning to use all of the exciting hand and power tools in our shop so that we can more effectively help with maintenance and construction projects. Someday I hope we will complete our own.



Leave it to Anne to find a climbing wall in the middle of a prairie!



This photo does not do justice to the number of invasive thistles packed into that truck bed. We found a sizeable forest of musk thistles seeding out at the tail end of our thistle season and decided to remove them from the scene entirely because pulling off all of the flowers would have taken a full day. A dumpster brimming with these villains was a satisfying sight after weeks of focusing most of our efforts on eradicating them.



I have moments every single day in this job when I have to stop what I’m doing to relish the fact that scenes like this are my equivalent to an office. I captured one of these moments one afternoon while scouting our Kelly Tract for Canada thistles. Controlling invasives is a daunting task with some species, and I have found myself feeling defeated to the point of forgetting its importance to our conservation objectives, which has been a good lesson for me. As Chris recently described in a blog post, our goal is to strengthen the overall ecological resilience of our properties, which cannot occur without a resilient plant community.



We rescued this little lady from the middle of a highway on our way to Niobrara Valley Preserve. There was a stretch of ten or so miles in which we saw a high number of box turtles crossing the road, and virtually none before or after. While she certainly looked on at us indifferently, I thought I could detect a hint of sass in her expression and did my best to capture it here.



Once Anne had learned how to safely operate this tractor, she proceeded to mow our most recent restoration site for several hours. The key to our success in becoming comfortable using all these new vehicles and tools is, unsurprisingly, practice. Luckily there is no shortage of pastures that need to be mowed, trees that need to be felled, or fences that need to be relocated. Mowing is one of several land management strategies for knocking back invasives by thwarting their growth to prevent or buy time before they seed out. Mowing “burn breaks” is also an essential component of safe prescribed fire burns.

Volunteer Opportunities – Platte River Prairies, Nebraska

The following is an unpaid advertisement by The Prairie Ecologist…

Need to build experience for a career in conservation?  Looking for a summer get-away that allows you to give back to the world?  Want to increase your knowledge of prairie ecology or natural history?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider volunteering with The Nature Conservancy at the Platte River Prairies in Nebraska!  We are looking for a few dedicated people who are willing to give a month or more of their time between May and October, 2012.  You can assist us with seed harvesting, native plant nursery work, invasive species control, fence repair and maintenance, research data collection, and inventory/monitoring of plant and animal populations.  In most cases, we can provide housing during your stay, so your primary expenses would be limited to travel to our prairies and food while you’re here.

Join our team and get experience with seed harvest and many other conservation activities.

We can tailor your experience to fit your individual needs and preferences.  If you’re a student looking for practical job experience, we will make sure you get hands on practice with a wide variety of tools and techniques and can network with our partner organizations.  If you’re more interested in some components of our work than others, we’ll do what we can to accomodate that.  We can also help set up individual research or other projects if you want something more in-depth or need something like that for college credit.

Anyone interested in volunteering with us can contact Mardell Jasnowski at our office (402-694-4191) or by email ( for more information.  We will ask for a resume and references, and will sort through applicants to find a slate of volunteers who match up well with our needs and capacity to provide a good experience for both parties.  There is no deadline for applications – we will begin evaluating them as they come in.